This is the salad that my meat and potatoes man requests on his birthday. You read that right…he requests a salad. It’s also the only way my carb-loving nephew will eat something green. I made it once for everyone at deer camp, (you read that right, too) and they were all hooked. At seven-months pregnant, it was the one and only time I went to deer camp. I quietly traipsed through the woods behind the hunters or sat gunless in a tree stand to enjoy the solitude. Then, each evening I cooked up a storm; I think it was part of my nesting phase. Anyway, this kale Caesar salad was the hit of the whole week’s menu.
The leafy greens in my little container garden are growing very well now, which has this salad on my mind once again. It’s delicious and, unlike lettuce salads, lasts for several days.
First the dressing. I don’t always make my own, but when I do, I try to make it a day in advance. This recipe is adapted from The Country Cook© and is largely similar except I add anchovy paste, use twice as much garlic and loosely measure everything else now that I’ve made it many times. In a food processor, or by hand if you’re a go-getter, finely process the garlic until it’s minced fine. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Refrigerate it for several hours or overnight to give the flavors time to meld. This step makes a BIG difference in taste.
I’ve found myself without anchovy paste a time or two and have substituted both canned sardines and canned anchovies. (Does everyone have stacks of those little red tins in the far back reaches of their pantry like I do? I think they’re from deer camp ages ago.) Grind up the whole little fish bodies! To me, this is the necessary tang that makes it a true Caesar.
Fresh tastes best, but when I need a shortcut or two, bottled lemon juice works in a pinch, as will diced garlic from a jar. I use a teaspoon per recommended clove.
For the ultimate shortcut, store-bought dressing tastes great too. We like the Litehouse brand over all the others we’ve tried. Both Doug’s and SuperOne carry it; just look for the blue-lidded glass pint jar.
Next the greens. I de-stem the kale with a quick pull through a clenched fist. Then I’ll either tear them up or roughly chop them. You can also roll them up tightly in a big ball and chop them fine for “shaved” kale, whatever suits the mood. Just make sure you pick out all the tough stem pieces, especially from the bagged kale.
Throw it all in a large bowl and generously sprinkle with sea salt. Now get in there with your hands and “massage” the salt into the kale. Be rough. Turn it constantly and rub the leaves between your fingers. I don’t have the science to back this up, but my gut says this is the key to making kale more digestible and easier to chew. After a minute or two of massage, the kale wilts down and turns a beautiful dark green.
Plop a big spoonful of Caesar dressing onto the kale leaves, tossing and adding more dressing slowly as needed. I use my fingers again, rubbing the dressing right down into all the crinkles of the wilted leaves. Toss in ½ cup Parmesan cheese (or more…we like more) and then refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. At this point top the greens with your favorite salad topper. I sometimes make garlic rosemary croutons or fried corn tortilla strips, but our favorite and the easiest is toasted pine nuts.
Toasting nuts is super easy; you just can’t walk away. I’ve burned many batches trying to multitask. Fry about 1/3rd cup of pine nuts (or sliced or slivered almonds) in a teaspoon of coconut oil (or any oil) plus a pat of butter for flavor and then season with sea salt and pepper. Be sure to stand right next to it and stir regularly so they don’t burn. The pine nuts, though spendy, make this Caesar salad company- or birthday dinner worthy. When we get a chance to go to Costco, we buy them in bulk and keep them in the freezer.
And yeah, I served the burned nuts to both company and the birthday boy. They still loved the kale Caesar salad. Everyone except my kooky uncle with no teeth.
Enjoy kale season!
[Published as part of the “Tastes of the Angle” series in the July 11th issue of the Warroad Pioneer]